Continuing our tour of Holyrood party leaders, we’ll take a look at Scottish Labour’s Kezia Dugdale—whose job isn’t getting any easier.Things looked promising at the start of the parliamentary session, as the Scottish Labour leader claimed a few victories at the party conference in Liverpool. Though Dugdale would have preferred to see Owen Smith triumph over Jeremy Corbyn, she won official autonomy for Scottish Labour. She landed a seat for Scotland on the NEC. With three council by-election victories in the bag and ScotRail woes on the front pages, Dugdale could have been forgiven for hoping she’d return to Holyrood with a renewed mandate.
If so, it didn’t last. Now her talking points are being swamped by rumours of party in-fighting. By-election successes have been overshadowed by defeats in Glasgow and the Highlands. And the party’s see-sawing over Brexit isn’t doing it any favours.
Ahead of May’s local elections, the party has its work cut out. For now, Scottish Labour has set its sights on the SNP’s ‘progressive’ image. The nationalists made ambitious promises at their party conference: retaining free tuition for EU students, expanding the business rate bonus, topping up NHS spending by £2 billion, et cetera—but offered few details on funding. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has grasped Holyrood’s new fiscal reins with a light grip, and Labour is framing her caution as a concession to Tory ‘austerity.’ Every mention of Indyref2 is another chance to suggest the SNP has its priorities out of order.
Still, if Dugdale accuses the SNP of putting independence above governance, her wobbly stance on Scottish single market membership risks giving the impression that Scottish Labour puts the union first. Whether the party can offer much unity of its own is another matter.